Mark Latham delivered the opening speech to the ALP National
Conference today and got a positive response from the party faithful
and the media – despite a huge blunder from his staff.
The new kid on the block, Mark Latham walked into the auditorium for
the ALP national conference to the strains of INXS’s “New Sensation”.

With a powdered nose, his hair carefully combed and a great deal of
strangely meaningless gesticulation, Latham delivered his opening
speech to the party faithful.

Check out the full transcript of Latham’s speech on the ALP website here.

It wasn’t a bad effort as Iron Mark repeated a few of his favourite
themes whilst also appearing strong in repudiating the deputy sheriff
line and daring to venture into the touchy issue of asylum seekers.

While it was back to the future on IR, the needs-based education
funding push will be interesting as the “bash the rich schools”
rhetoric could be over if Iron Mark is serious about not pitting
“school against school and sector against sector”.

ABC radio’s chief political reporter Catherine McGrath certainly gave
it a warm reception on The World Today and it will be very interesting
to see how it goes down on TV and with the commentariat tomorrow.

People like Derryn Hinch and Ten’s Paul Bongiorno have both gone public saying they thought it was an “impressive” speech.

Iron Mark’s IT blunder

However, Iron Mark’s staff have managed one major blunder. The speech
was distributed on an embargoed basis to the business observers with
the usual instructions to “check against delivery”.

This was naturally on-passed to the Libs who quickly discovered that
you could view the history of the document and see bits which had been
added or taken out of the final speech and who wrote certain aspects.

They just needed to turn on the ‘tracked changes’ feature in MIcrosoft Word and they all came up.

Most of the changes were made by staffer Alison Byrnes and there were some made by Malinda Wink from the Opposition media unit.

It appears that Simon Crean wrote much of the IR material and toned
down some of the excesses. It was “CreanS” who removed this line: “Our
children are just 20 per cent of the population but they are 100 per
cent of our future. It’s time we invested in them.”

Peter Costello is already all over this deleted pledge – “I will solve
problems without forcing up taxes, deficits or interest rates”claiming it reveals Labor’s hidden agenda to raise taxes and blow out the deficit.

And the Left won’t be happy that this promise to say ‘Sorry’ to the
Stolen Generation was left out – “Big enough to say ‘sorry’ and work
with the Aboriginal people to bring about genuine reconcilation with
justice”.

The changes also show that they toned down much of the personal attacks on John Howard.

You can see a summary of the changes and additions here.

Or access the full document on a special Liberal Party website set up to moniter the ALP National Conference here.

Whichever staffer distributed this speech in a word document without
creating a completely fresh and untrackable version should be sacked as
this will give the media and the Libs plenty of fodder to work with.

Most of the TV bulletins ran the leaked draft angle at the end of
reports on Latham’s speech so the blunder hasn’t overshadowed his key
messages.

Seven didn’t mention it at all in Melbourne, which is probably not
surprising as they are currently between Canberra correspondents. New
recruit Mark Riley hasn’t started yet, while former correspondent Glenn
Milne would have been all over it.

3AW was leading its news bulletins with the story late in the afternoon
but PM didn’t mention it, even though they ran a grab of Costello
attacking Latham based on the leaked draft without really explaining
what he was talking about.

Is Kevin Andrews running the conference wedge?

Federal Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews’ guide to the Labor Party National Conference – up on the site here
– has got us wondering. (It’s also been useful for journalists. Did
anyone notice Annabel Crabb borrowing heavily from it in this morning’s
Age without attribution.)

Does anyone else reckon this is the Government’s official conference wedge strategy?

The PM’s comments about “manners” to the Parrot are an obvious go at
Iron Mark – and an attempt to counter his kinder, gentler gestures of
late – while remaining above the fray.

Andrews’ release is a different matter.

Kev the Rev normally follows the children’s hymn “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild”.

Issuing a detailed 28-page axe job full of biographical details and
quotes is w-a-y out of character for him.  It looks as if the
Coalition’s negative research boys and girls – who work very closely
with the Leader of the House, one T Abbott, a bloke with industrial
relations form – did the work and got him to put his name to it.

Here’s how we reckon it might be supposed to work:

The Government’s release is a deliberate attempt to pick a fight with
the union movement in an election year. This will, it hopes, create
tension between the two wings of the labour movement – the bruvvers and
the ALP.

At the same time, it will let that great national healer, John Howard,
issue warnings of “union chaos if Labor is elected”.  IR, after
all, is one of his favourite topics.  Remember “Jobsback”?

Just to add some further spice, there might even be some rats in the ranks down at Darling Harbour.

Iron Mark promised a shake-up of industrial relations in his opening
speech – the abolition of workplace agreements and the restoration of
the role of the Industrial Relations Commission.

What a coincidence, then, that the Government’s pre-emptive strike took an IR focus!

Greg Hywood also had an interesting column in today’s Age focusing on the big question of union influence inside the ALP: “Latham task: ignore Labor”

Iron Mark fails his economics test

The Howard Government mightn’t need to use any wedges against Latham.
He may have done himself enough damage with all his talk of a
government as big as this country so early in his keynote speech this
morning:

“Delegates, the Australia I believe in is a big country.  Big in
size, big in spirit, big in character. And that’s our task: to be
bigger than the Howard Government. Big enough to invest in the
education and health care of our children.

“Big enough to provide public housing for the poor and care for the
aged and disabled. Big enough to protect the environment and ratify the
Kyoto Protocol. Big enough to protect our great natural assets – to
save the Murray Darling and the Great Barrier Reef. Big enough to care
for our regions and – once and for all – stop the full sale of Telstra.

“Delegates, we can be so much bigger than the Howard Government. Big
enough to help the working poor and put some decency back into the
industrial relations system…”

Big government rhetoric and small government economics don’t go.

Big government costs big dollars – and that means bigger tax bills bigger interest rate costs and bigger levels of inflation.

Say goodbye to the, er, big end of town, Mark.  And even Beazley
managed to be more succinct in his comments on the little fellas. 
He put it all in just 10 words:  “We have never pretended to be a
small
business party”.